Animal life

One major thing that makes living in Africa such a soul touching experience is that you are in close contact with the nature all the time… I sensed it strongly in Tanzania and it came back to me again now here in Awassa – especially now that I’m coming from the Finnish winter which closes a city girl like me pretty much indoors.

Living mostly outdoors gives to one’s senses so much to work on, I feel that every pore of my skin is taking impressions from the air,from the sun, from the singing of the birds, from the shrieking of the monkeys, the smells etc. When I’m sitting on the terrace of my hotel having breakfast I can observe the monkeys that are lurking for the leftovers of my meal. One day, it was not so nice any more when they decided to go one step bolder and started to climb to the balconies, entering the rooms and stealing everything they got their hands on – it takes about 10 minutes from a skillful monkey to dismantle a cell phone, get tired of the game and fling the device somewhere where the owner will never find it… They also tried to enter my room, but fortunately I was in and shooed them away, but got punished for that with a stinking protest all over my balcony…

On some mornings I got up really early and took about 5 kilometres walk along the lakeside to a fancy hotel owned by the Olympic winner marathon runner Haile Gebreselassie. It seems that the best way to become filthy rich in Ethiopia is to become a super athlete; for example in Addis Ababa there are several luxury hotels owned by them. The morning hours on that popular route are the best: There are almost no people around yet, only some cafe keepers preparing their places for opening, the scenery is breath taking, the variety of birds would make any serious bird watcher extatic (they DO come here for bird watching) and a lonely traveler might catch a tremendous sight of a hippo having his morning cleansing or stretching or whatever it is they are doing there in the shallow waters near the bank.

And of course on wandering on the town one meets constantly herds of goats and cows as well as donkeys pulling carriages. There they are in perfect harmony with all the motor bikes (which is the most common and also most convenient means of travelling inside the city), bajajis and cars (some of them really fancy too!). There’s always packs of more or less wild dogs around and one day I saw them following a young girl who was nibbling at a piece of dry bread. The dogs were quite aggressive and the girl got scared and kept throwing for them pieces of her bread trying at same time to get away from them – scary… And talking about scary one night when it was already dark we were driving back to the hotel and spotted a hyena on the roadside it’s wild eyes gleaming in the light of the torches of the car. That time I was happy to be inside a proper car, not riding on a motor bike or bajaji, not to mention by foot! It was quite an evil looking creature…

Another not so delightful encounter happened on my last evening in Awassa. I returned to the hotel quite late only to find that even though my balcony door had been closed during my absence (always after the monkey invasion) my room was full of mosquitoes. Awassa is not as bad malaria area as Tanzania but still malaria does exist here and I felt a bit uncomfortable sharing my blood with them. So I called the reception and they sent a boy upstairs who bluntly sprayed my room with something so awful I don’t even want to know – and mind you, we used to do the same operation in Mtwara almost every night in the beginning of our stay there so I’ve probably accumulated more poison into my system during my times in Africa than during the rest of my life… There must have been some extraordinary circumstances at the lake that night since all the hotel guests suddenly had the same problem that night. So I didn’t share my blood with the mosquitoes but I did share my room with their corpses that lay everywhere after the friendly poisoner’s visit… Did sleep well though…

My trip to the animal kingdom was concluded on my way back to Addis when I got to see herds and herds of camels. I didn’t get any pictures of them since my companion struck my camera down when I tried to take one. He warned me that the herdsmen will kill me if they catch me photographing their animals – which they allegedly think is stealing the souls of the camels. I’m not sure if I’m convinced by this explanation but this is the reason why I never got a photo of a camel…
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From my early morning walk

All the stall are still empty

All the stalls are still empty
A coffee shop ready for the customers

A coffee shop ready for the customers

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At the end of the road looms Haile Resort...

At the end of the road looms Haile Resort…

...and the final award!

…and the final award!

Don't you have anything for me... anything?

Don’t you have anything for me… anything?

Well, then we'll take over the balconies

Well, then we’ll take over the balconies

And leave YOUR balcony with a souvenir...

And leave YOUR balcony with a souvenir…

On the street next to the hotel

On the street next to the hotel

On Mount Tabor...

On Mount Tabor…

...could be seen also some genuine Homo Sapiens...

…could be seen also some genuine Homo Sapiens…

...who suffered from the heat and the climb...

…who suffered from the heat and the climb…

...and a lonely octopus who had gotten stranded on a mountainside...

…and a lonely octopus who had gotten stranded on a mountainside…

...but what a relief, it's an aloe vera

…but what a relief, it’s an aloe vera!

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Days of Aw…assa

After my hectic arrival to Awassa I soon settled in to this familiar place. It is soothing to have the crickets’ high pitched song in my ears at night, to have the familiar taste of shiro and injera in my mouth… AND it was such a thrill to meet everybody again; the children, the adults at the dojo, the workers at the AYC, even the lady who has one of those tea shags next to the dojo remembered me and greeted me like an old friend…:-)

Every afternoon I have an Aikido class to conduct but otherwise I’m free to explore what ever I feel like. I soon settled in the african rhytm starting my days lazily on my balcony facing the Awassa lake with it’s thousands of birds doing slow Qigong excercises relishing the view and the harmonious movement in me – it’s like meditating in movement 🙂

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Lake Awassa – one can always see some papyrus drafts being paddled by.

After my morning rituals I might take a stroll along the lake meeting all kinds of wanderers, for example an Indian guy who is bicycling around the world arising awareness on Aids (http://www.somen2020world.com/). He has already gone with his bicycle through more than a hundred countries, including Finland where he enjoyed as something very exotic the highschool students’ garduation party in springtime.

I also reverted back to my habit of reading black African novelists. At the moment I’m reading Chinua Achebe’s novel Anthills of the Savannah and I can’t resist but quote something from the book:

– – -It has to be same with society. You re-form it around what it is, its core of reality; not around an intellectual abstraction. – – – In the vocabulary of certain radical theorists contradictions are given the status of some deadly disease to which their opponents alone can succumb. But contradictions are the very stuff of life. – – –

I don’t know if this short quote makes any sense to anybody who hasn’t read the book, but to me it somehow in addition to being a very insightful picture of this continent it also reverberates the ideas that I try here to pass on in the Aikido classes; don’t try to change yourself but get deeper into yourself, into who you are – and don’t worry if everything doesen’t seem to make sense first; feeling contradictions can make your understanding deeper and your life richer…

People here are as open as always; you get to talk with them starting from various situations. On Saturday morning I was on my way to AYC to give my two weekend classes. Since they start quite early (at 8am) and last until noon, I didn’t have any breakfast before but had prepared myself with a couple of bananas that I was carrying with me in a plastic bag. On the trees that fringe the street, the monkeys came closer than ever and I stopped to take close shots of them with my camera. With the corner of my eye I noticed that a guy walking near to me stopped also and was watching us closely. When I left my nature photographer’s post and continued my stroll I asked him if he was worried about the monkeys attacking me and my delicacies. And yes, that was the cause for his attendance and so we ended up chatting the whole bajaji trip to the city.

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Later on that same Saturday I invited the children from the dojo for a lunch and they took me to a wonderful traditional restaurant for some injera, shiro and different kind of wats (sauces).  

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Traditional way of showing somebody that you like them is to feed them a handful of injera and wat.

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The ceiling is made out of basket weaves.

After lunch we strolled to the area where the annual Timkat Festival (the Epiphany) was to be held the same weekend and the kids told me all kinds of interesting details about their culture. We also got to talk about their dreams, their plans for the future and I have to say, it doesen’t really differ very much from the dreams of children everywhere on this planet… They want to be doctors, engineers, actresses, hotel managers etc. and they want to have their own families and lead a happy, prosperous life. Even their role models are the same starting from some very trendy American rap artists whom a relic like me doesen’t even know via Angelina Jolie to Nelson Mandela and Mother Theresa…

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To enter the church area the women cover their heads with traditional Ethiopian scarves.

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Ethiopian beauty…

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Young love – that’s universal too…

Eden the Bold one

Eden the Bold one


This is how the staff in my  hotel had decorated my bed when I came back from celebrating Timkat.

This is how the staff in my hotel had decorated my bed when I came back from celebrating Timkat.

Even though I find it to be true that people are the same from their core everywhere in the world I have to say there are also HUGE differences between the cultures and having been now eight months back in the western culture I find myself struggling again to understand and to accept certain features in this particular African culture (I mean, as I have stated before, there is not one African culture, but hundreds of them, and what applies to Ethiopia doesen’t necessarily apply to other African cultures). But one thing I find similar at least everywhere I’ve been to in Africa is the perception of time. As much as I love this timeless being where there is no hurry to go somewhere all the time or accomlish something in the shortest of time, it takes a lot of adjusting from me again.
For example the students at the dojo are dropping into the Aikido class one by one all through the class – actually, this time I’m not even trying to adjust to that any more since Aiki Extensions and I along it is trying to plant some discipline and awareness of the entirety of a class into the students… Otherwise, what’s the use of a teacher to plan the classes to have a trajectory? It even came to my mind that maybe this is one of the reasons for African inertia and inefficiency; if nothing ever forms an entirety but is only separate fragments, how can there be progress???
Another difficult time related phenomenon to digest is making dates with Ethiopians. Instead of setting an hour for the meeting they say: ‘I call you tomorrow’ and the call might come tomorrow or the day after tomorrow or next week or never. On the other hand if you call them asking when can we meet they might be on your doorstep in five minutes – sometimes you don’t even have to call, they just appear… And sometimes they expect you to be ready to meet them the minute they unexpectedly call you. It’s a totally different perception of time! Here people are not that busy that they wouldn’t be able to adjust their schedules – but sometimes it also means that meeting you is moved aside for something that comes along before… A European friend of mine who has lived here for several years explained it like this: ‘I call you tomorrow’ means that I would very much like to meet you tomorrow if I am able and nothing else more significant or urgent or something doesn’t come on the way…:-)

Again and again I realize that it seems to be impossible for a westerner to fully understand these enigmatic Ethiopians – and wise versa. They are being soooooo polite and friendly all the time but actually, I’m never quite sure what goes on behind that beautiful, friendly face of theirs… But then again, we can also raise this existential question wheter anybody can ever fully know anybody else…

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Back in My Beloved Africa

When I left Africa last May I was sure I would come back some day but had no idea when that day would be… For sure I didn’t have a slightest premonition it would be this soon!

When Lou from Aiki Extensions approached me asking if I would be willing to go back for two weeks teaching Aikido at the Awassa Youth Center I didn’t think twice! Or maybe I thought as long as it took me to convince my boss that I needed to take leave from work and go… (Thank you Mari, if you are reading this! But you already know how I feel…:-)

So on a cold and dark January evening I took a plane from Helsinki to Frankfurt and from there to Addis Ababa. The African adventure started already at my arrival to Addis airport, where the customs realized through screening my suitcase that I was carrying ten used, old model (no touch screen, but a keyboard and a small screen) Nokia smart phones which were contributed by my collagues in Finland to be donated in Awassa. The customs officer’s first bid for taxing the phones was a little over 30 000 Birr which amounts to about 1150 euros! I told them I could buy ten brand new pieces of this same model with a lower amount… After long and tedious negotiations I left the airport with six phones, having paid 4500 Birr (170 €) as tax and having abandoned four of the phones (probably to be sold on the black market by corrupt customs officers)…

After having spent most of the morning at the airport it was time to take my bus from Addis to Awassa – it’s about 300 km’s and 5 hours’ ride. As it happened, on that very same day it was Mohammed’s birthday, so a holiday and because of that I had to visit about ten ATM’s before finding one that had cash in it. After this ordeal I found out that the bus to Awassa was canceled for the day… Not wanting to stay in Addis any extra days I took my chances in a minibus. As I’ve decribed before in this blog, before take off the minibus circles around certain premises to collect enough passengers to fill the whole bus to make enough profit for the entrepreneur. This time it took two hours with a lot of driving around and hollering out from the sliding door of the vehicle calling for prospective passengers. After we were finally on our way, the driver bought a bunch of chat on the way and kept chewing it the whole journey along with talking constantly on his cell phone, scribbling phone numbers in his notebook to arrange his next day’s journey and arguing loudly with his passengers (turning towards the back seats every time…) about the insuffciency of the compensation he was getting out of this trip… I’m telling you; if there would have been anywhere for me to go – only the hot road and desert around us – I would have stepped out of the mad man’s vehicle and waited for the next day and a proper bus…

But as I wrote to my sister when I had finally reached my hotel in Awassa late that night, I must really love this place to be always ready to suffer all the inconveniences just to get here…:-)

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Waiting at the mini bus area in Addis…

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According to Ethiopian calendar Christmas was just last week so all the Christmas decorations are still on their place.

 

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Goodbye Africa

I have been having most paradoxical feelings for a couple of days. At the same time that I’m tremendously happy to go home and see my family and friends and to experience the delicate, slow spring of Finland after spending eight months in eternal summer my heart is weeping for everything I had to leave behind…

I started saying goodbyes in Awassa after the last children’s Aikido class I gave. All the children were clinging onto me, shaking hands, hugging, asking me when I’ll be back. It was tough to walk away… Then I said goodbye to all the good friends I’ve made there during my two stays and the next day driving in a car from Awassa to Addis Ababa I said goodbye to this beautiful country and its magnificent landscapes. African sky truly is huge…

Next morning flying from Addis to Dar I saw from the plane window the turquoise beaches of Dar es Salaam and Zanzibar and for a moment I had to hold back tears thinking that I might never see them again… So many good moments spent there…

Actually, I started saying goodbyes already two months ago when I moved from Mtwara to Dar. That wasn’t so hard then since I still had the time left on this awesome continent. Even when I left Dar – which was already waaaaaaaaaaay harder because of the wonderful students at Azikiwe Aikido Club I still didn’t have this feeling of finality which is now making my heart so solemn.

In Dar es Salaam taking a taxi – even the taxi driver! I’ve been using the same trustworthy taxi driver every time I needed one in Dar and we both felt already kind of friendship towards each other – through the city to pick up the rest of my luggage from Anoek’s place and going back to the airport for my evening flight to Nairobi I felt the hectic rhythm of the city in my blood and was thinking what a fool I was to leave all this… Arriving at Anoek’s place I was greeted by a family that keeps shop on the basement of the building and had to explain to them with my broken Swahili (even more broken now after hearing just Amharic around me for a month and having tried to pick up as many words as possible of that tremendously difficult language – I used to think Swahili is a difficult language but it’s nothing compared to Amharic; even simple Thank you is a long and hard to pronounce word which is written totally different from pronouncing; Ameseginalehugn, pronounced something like Amesegenallo) why I had to leave almost at the same moment I showed back up and when I would possibly return… Explaining my travels and things I have experienced in these two different countries to these people would be a challenge even in English… To the common Tanzanians or Ethiopians these almost neighbouring countries could as well be as far as Finland (or outer space for that matter); they never get to travel anywhere so they have no perception of how foreign countries are.

So blended to these feelings of joy going back home to my loved ones and sorrow of having to leave so many new friends here seeps in a feeling of gratitude; how tremendously lucky and priviledged person I am being able to experience all this; being able to travel to places on Earth, seeing different landscapes, habits, ways of life, meeting people – widening my perspectives, deepening my understanding…

In the British Airlines plane from Nairobi to London I got first waves of shock when I entered the bathroom. There were tons of toilet paper – not something you would meet in the African ‘bathrooms’ – but also – besides that there was tissues for wiping the toilet seat… and tissues to wipe your hands… even separate tissues for wiping your face! And an abundance of liquid soap and hot water! And after I had used all these commodities the airline politely wished me to ‘wipe the wash basin for the next customer’… The level of hygiene and of luxury that is so commonplace in the west just seems absurd for somebody coming from Africa…

The next shock came when I was flying from London to Helsinki. Watching Europe from the air made me feel somehow cramped since everything is so small; all those small patches of cultivated fields, small lakes, even small sea (the Baltic)! And over Finland all you can see is forest, forest, forest… There is no sign anywhere of the huge spaciousness of Africa; the vast plains, the never ending mountain sites, the dry yellow and brown earth that just continues as far as the eye can see…

Now I am at home surrounded by my family and friends, I am happy to feel so much love but at the same time contemplating when will I be able to return to Africa… Today I also had a total medical check up to make sure I didn’t bring back any unwanted life forms inside myself but I’m afraid this one bug – this ‘I want to go back to Africa’ -bug – is incurable; it will stay in my blood forever…

There is no way to show with photographs the Africa that is in my heart so this writing I will not end with any photos.

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New Experiences, New Attitudes

In this blog I have often written about the challenges I’ve met here in Africa as well as about trying to grow as a person (I hate this expression ‘grow as a person’ but don’t really know how else to put it). I came to think of it again today when I met yet more challenges and contemplated their effect on me…

This morning (at 6am!) I attended a local Taekwondo class here in Awassa, Ethiopia. I must admit I have always been quite prejudiced against all other martial arts besides Aikido having a bit arrogant attitude that my kind is the best. Now here on this continent where I cannot as easily as at home brush aside all the open-minded friendly invitations, I’ve already attended Karate class in Dar es Salaam and now it was Taekwondo’s turn. I didn’t do any better in Taekwondo than when I tried the Karate katas; all these different kicks were just too much for my comprehension, but I had loads of fun trying. And what made me especially happy was the fact that I could relax completely and drop any necessity to show to anybody that ‘I’m an aikidoka and I will always do exceptionally well in any martial art’… No, I was happy to be silly, adventurous person who is ready and willing to try anything that comes on her way 🙂 I mean, this was the first time ever I felt completely free from showing off and I liked myself much better that way (even though my kicks must have looked pitiful to the young guys who were mastering the art beautifully 😉

This trying of new things open-mindedly without the fear of making a fool out of yourself is as good a drug as endorfines you get from just normal practicing. I’ve also considered taking up jogging (which I have always been appalled about) since so many people seem to enjoy it tremendously. Last weekend there was a half marathon here in Awassa organized by Ethiopia’s grand man in long distance running Haile Gebreselassie. I didn’t run but watching the happy endorfine filled faces that entered the finish line I wished I had… I also read earlier Christopher McDougall’s excellent book Born to Run which in it’s part helped opening my eyes to the beauty and value of other activities besides Aikido…

In the end of the Taekwondo class I faced yet another challenge when requested to give an ex tempore speech to the students. Since I felt very grateful for the revelation I had had during the class I didn’t want to say just something indifferent but really put my mind into it and I do hope the students felt my sincerity and maybe that even opened a little space in their minds towards acknowledging all the martial artists belonging to the same family aiming at self growth and demolition of aggression within ourselves.

After the Taekwondo class I rushed to give Aikido class for children at the Awassa Youth Campus. I believe my experience at Taekwondo made me more fun and more approachable teacher that morning and I felt very close to the children… And again I was suddenly put into a tight spot! After the class we always sit a while in a circle and the students are free to ask questions from the teacher. Now Demelash, the dojo-cho, made me a question that was clearly inspired by a couple of girls in the class who are more advanced than most of the kids: How to keep up the interest towards the training when you sometimes feel bored in the class, even frustrated? This was another subject I didn’t want to pass lightly but wanted to say something meaningful, something that would genuinly help these girls to continue with their training. I don’t know how well I succeeded in my words but again, I was being sincere and I do believe sincerity makes a difference in this world…

All these openings of one’s mind and challenges to say something that matters made me feel that I have succeeded to grow a little today – thanks to good people who create the opportunities…:-)

Happy faces at the finish line

Happy faces at the finish line

The marathon was a big happening and also the audience took everything out of it.

The marathon was a big happening and also the audience took everything out of it.

So how did this thing called Tenchinage go again...?

So how did this thing called Tenchinage go again…?

The quality of the photo is terrible, but I just had to put it here since I cherish so much the moment this photo was taken.

The quality of the photo is terrible, but I just had to put it here since I cherish so much the moment this photo was taken.

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Life in Dar es Salaam

A while ago I had an interesting experience. One of my students at Azikiwe Aikido Club invited me to join the Karate class he is attending. Almost everybody at Azikiwe practises some other martial art in addition to Aikido. I was not quite sure whether it would be actual joining of the class (I’ve never done Karate) or just watching it but jovially promised to be there.

When we got to the dojo the ongoing class was stopped, everybody turned to me and bowed like to a big Sensei. Gradually it dawned to me that I was there to teach these karatekas (many of them black belts) ‘some Aikido weapon skills’. And mind you, the weapons are not particularly my cup of tea… But, what to do, I was there, the students were there, expecting something grand and exotic from me, so I mentally rolled up my sleeves and grasped the task. Just breathing out, relaxing and going with the flow…

I quickly went through in my mind what weapon techniques I could remember and ended up with the easiest solution: Tantodori. The obvious one of course is Chudan-tsuki Ikkyo so that is what we did as well as Yokomen-uchi Shiho-nage. I’m sure the world is full of aikidokas who could have done much better work than me showing and teaching these techniques to the karatekas but as I was the one who was there and as the saying goes Seize the moment I did it. All kinds of situations you can get yourself into on this crazy continent…

Another challenge I quite suddenly faced happened in a small beach town called Bagamoyo some 50 kilmometres from Dar which I was vsiting during the weekend with my friend Tula. In the hotel we were staying in we met a French guy who had just opened a diving school there. Since Tula wanted to do a little sailing trip and I love snorkeling we decided to combine these two activities and set out for a day trip on Christian’s boat. Along with us were two other divers one of which Christian was training to become a diving instructor. So it happened that here too I seized the moment and decided to get baptized in scuba diving which I have always dreamed of but never had the courage to try because of my very severe case of claustrophobia. I got very thorough introduction and felt very safe with three experienced divers taking care of me. In the beginning I had to surface every couple of minutes just to make sure I could, but in the end was able to do a 20 minutes dive without interruption. And was it worth it ever! From snorkeling I was already familiar with the corals and the life underneath which are breathtakingly beautiful but the feeling of overcoming my fear was intoxicating! I felt delirious for days…

At the hotel we also met a merry party of Belgians living in Congo. To me, familiar with the cruelty of Belgian colonialistic rule in Congo, it was surprising to hear they could still live in that country. And I grew even more surprised hearing that many older Congolese people who still can remember the colonial times show respect towards Belgians because they think their standard of living was better under their rule… True or not, I don’t know, but the Belgians we met were wonderful company; great games of petanque and in the afterparty they proved to me that it is not the priviledge of only Finnish people to be able to consume vast amounts of alcohol and still stay funny and witty…

And the exitement didn’t end there… One night driving home with Anoek the battery of her car died suddenly in the middle of one of the busiest and not so safe streets of the city. To top it all, the battery was so low that we couldn’t even shut the electrically operated windows which of course were wide open in the tropical night air. So it was not possible to leave the car there. First we got help pushing the car to the pavement – here one always gets help immediately from everybody around; you’re never left alone with your troubles. After trying to wake up the battery with the help of another car – which worked, but the battery died immediately again in the next corner because the traffic here is so impossible and the cars always end up in standstill long periods of time – we ended up being towed by a taxi to our house. The exitement came about from the fact that we were two mzungu women alone in the night in a bad neighbourhood plus I was carrying my only really valuable property here; i.e. my Mac in my rucksack and in my underwear my rent money for a month…

I also managed to visit a publishing house here in Dar. Anoek, who’s an architect, had a project with some publishers who among other books publish also school materials, and she told them about me. So I was welcomed to visit them in their store and had an interesting chat. Even here in Tanzania, where the circumstances in schools in the rural areas are totally rudimentary, they are contemplating, as we do everywhere in the western world, about how and when to transfer the educational materials into digital form. But this particular publishing house is very progressive, another one I visited was more traditional, and there I saw books which totally explained why the children often don’t learn anything in the school here; the English language for primary school students was so difficult even I had hard time making out what they were trying to say, often the cases were just stated and logics behind not explained, the printing was so bad one couldn’t make out anything from the pictures and so on… Many of these books looked like somebody had copypasted loose facts from internet without having done any editing to the material.

All in all, life in Dar es Salaam proved to be much more pleasant and much more manageable than I ever thought and I know I will miss this crazy city terribly after I’m gone…

Tantodori Chudan-tsuki Ikkyo

Tantodori Chudan-tsuki Ikkyo

Gathering the gear...

Gathering the gear…

...and then ready to go under!

…and then ready to go under!

Anoek's boyfriend Pasco came to rescue the ladies in distress.

Anoek’s boyfriend Pasco came to rescue the ladies in distress.

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Azikiwe Aikido Club

My heart is overflowing! I am back with my family – my Aikido family :-)!I don’t know these people beforehand but immediately they feel like my kind of people. Aikido really attracts certain kind of people where ever you are… Or then it just molds people in a certain way…

The Aikido dojo in Dar es Salaam is called Azikiwe Aikido Club (http://azikiwe.zatunen.com/index.html) and it was founded by Yukihide Katsuta some three and half years ago. Katsuta was sent by his company to work in Dar and since he wanted to go on with his Aikido and there was none it happened as so often that he ended up starting a dojo. Last month his company transferred him back to Japan and suddenly the dojo was without a high grade teacher. Katsuta then contacted me, told about the situation and welcomed me to teach his students if I had a chance. And of course I had a chance! I made a chance to happen :-)!

The dojo is a member of The Aikido Kenkyukai International (A.K.I.). Katsuta is a student of Takeda Yoshinobu shihan. Before I arrived to the dojo I checked Takeda Shihan in internet and found out that his technique resembles very much my teacher Endo Shihan’s technique. This is not so surprising since both of these shihans used to study under late Yamaguchi Sensei. I also liked very much Katsuta’s definition of Aikido on the dojo’s website: The goal of Aikido is not the defeat of others, but the defeat of the negative characteristics which inhabit your own mind and inhibit its functioning. I couldn’t agree more! And when you look at it this way I feel that I HAVE practiced Aikido the whole time I’ve been here in Africa even though not on tatami…:-)

Having seen Takeda Shihan do Aikido and read Katsuta’s touching definiton my expectations were quite high about the dojo. Katsuta gave me a phone number of a contact person from the dojo and advised me that the arrangements to help me to get to the dojo might be conducted in ‘a Tanzanian way’. Well, this was an unnecessary warning since I’ve been here long enough to expect things to be difficult, slow and unreliable anyway…

So, when I was still in Mtwara I called Akida, the contact person appointed by Katsuta, trying to speak as much of my broken swahili as possible… On the other end of the line was a very friendly voice talking in clear English: Welcome to Dar es Salaam! Just let me know when you have arrived and tell me where you are and I will pick you up and take you to the dojo and after practice I will take you back home. Not what I’m used to in Mtwara, not what I expected!

And so it went onwards; Akida picked me up punctually (african punctually, not the same as in western standards) and took me to the dojo. There I met about a dozen Tanzanian men and got to try out how they would accept a mzungu, a woman (and a middle aged woman at that) as their teacher… No problems whatsoever! One of the students, Richard, even told me it has always been his dream to have a female teacher. Everybody is sincere, respectful and very eager to learn! I also felt immediately this warmth and friendliness that is shared by Aikido people all over the world.

After the practice the guys impressed me even more by cleaning the tatamis with a wet cloth before stacking them neatly in one corner of the dojo. We practice in a school gym so the tatamis are always placed on the floor before the class and removed after. I was impressed because I haven’t detected such cleanliness and organized way of doing things here in Africa before. The laying of the mats is conducted in good time before the class starts and cleaning and piling of them after the class in a calm, self-evident way, everybody participating – Katsuta has really created wonderful atmosphere and attitude here!

On the way back after the practice I got even more convinced that Aikido really shapes us… I’ve written before on this blog about the traffic in Dar and what a challenge it is for the pedestrians to cross the street… Imagine my surprise when Akida, who is a professional and very skillfull driver, stopped the car and let the pedestrians pass – never ever have I seen that happening here before! It must be the influence of Aikido ;-)! Maybe the influence of Aikido can be seen also in that that in this dojo muslims and christians practice together in total harmony being open and friendly towards each other. This is peace work at it’s best and especially significant in a country where religion is an important part of people’s everyday life. When I leave the dojo saying to the guys Tutaonana Jumanne (translates about See you on Tuesday) the answer is Mungu akipenda (God willing) which to my secular ear sounds exotic but which is totally natural thing for them to say…

My only sorrow in this dojo is the lack of women. So far after teaching four classes I’ve seen only two girls, and both of them only attended one class. This is a great pity since in addition to benefiting women themselves if they practice Aikido, I think it is beneficial to the men too to do Aikido with women. When they work with women they are forced to use less of their muscle power, to listen more, and maybe they are able pick up something valuable in experiencing a different quality of doing Aikido…

Placing the mats before the practice

Placing the mats before the practice

Explaining the direction of ki

Explaining the direction of ki

After the practice

After the practice

The two senior students Juma and Akida (my wonderful chauffeur)

The two senior students Juma and Akida (my wonderful chauffeur)

Everybody participates in clearing the space; either by cleaning the tatamis or by collecting them.

Everybody participates in clearing the space; either by cleaning the tatamis or by collecting them.

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